This morning it was John and Audrey’s turn to rise early(ish) with us in preparation for our Iceland Aurora photo expedition to the Snæfellsness Peninsula. After seeing the great reviews, the prospect of gallivanting around Iceland in a superjeep and, moreover, honing our photography skills on a private tour seemed too good an adventure to pass up.
We meet up with our tour guide, Owen, in the Hilton lobby and leverage our way up into his car, a huge, lifted red Land Rover sporting beefy tires – a vehicle clearly intended for much more treacherous weather than the innocent grey drizzle and complete lack of snow presently offered by the outdoors.
Owen is a gregarious expat English geologist-turned-photography tour guide. For years during the summer, he brought young students to Iceland to study geology. For him, Iceland was love at first sight. The land and the people captured his heart.
He’s a veritable font of information about the volcanically-formed landscape; from its basalt columns and impressive black sand beaches, to coastal sea caves and geysers – he has answers to everything and I get the sense that we’re just barely able to scratch the surface of his knowledge.
We rediscover the things we thought we knew; facts and tidbits long-ago learned and just as long-ago forgotten, from a simpler time when school meant tri-folds about plate tectonics and baking soda science fair projects, wan imitations of the vast, incredible geothermal powers surrounding us now.
It’s just as well that Owen is so knowledgeable; the first and last legs of the journey are a solid few hours of driving, and the more we drive, the deeper we get into fog, until we can barely see beyond the car windows.
Our breath steams up the interior and we keep wiping down the glass with a towel that grows dirtier and wetter, as though we could somehow also wipe away the obfuscating mist dampening our view of the surrounding mountains and the volcanic cones and the glacial snowcap that’s supposed to be just-right-about-over-there-maybe.
But we don’t mind. Even if we aren’t able to see quite so far out of the windows as we’d expected to, it still has the feel of an adventure: me jouncing around in the rumbling backseat with the bags and crutches and water bottles rattling; John and Audrey swaying in the middle, and Jason up front with the three different kinds of GPS and other dashboard gadgetry bouncing and jittering, ever-optimistically peering out into the blanketing whiteness of the world beyond as we speed down the Icelandic ring road.
One of our first stops is at a fishing dock and processing facility, where seagulls roost among the hollows of craggy pillars, waves crash against up against the low cliffsides, and plastic crates full of fishing net await the next catch, glistening with pearly water droplets from the near-constant drizzle.
In a split second, the weather goes from drizzle to downpour.
We hurriedly stuff our cameras inside our jackets and dash through the small dockside fish warehouse’s broadly open doorway. The fishermen glance up, nod in our direction, and go back to their work.
The rain subsides quickly, and so we’re back on our way. Our next stop takes us to the “spirit of Snæfellsnes” – an arched stone tribute to the peninsula. Just beyond, a perforated rubber pathway winds amidst the moss and grasses which thrive on the rich volcanic soil.
The landscape here is as absent of trees as everywhere else we’ve seen – Owen explained earlier that the Vikings who settled here deforested much of Iceland, using wood for fire and buildings. Between so many of their structures being wood and the harsh Icelandic climate, there are very few remaining signs of these earlier inhabitants.
We follow the pathway out to the edge of the cliffs, John and Audrey carefully making their way behind – on this particular venture, Audrey most certainly earned an offroading achievement for her crutches.
Peering out over the edge into the misting sea spray, we watch the waves rush up and down the black sand; rising, falling, ever-reaching for a yawning sea cave opening hollowed out into the cliff. Nesting seagulls chatter and keen from craggy cliff outcroppings.
Behind us, fog drapes heavily over the land’s flatness. Barely visible off in the distance, a lone house floats gauzy and ghostly among the dampening mists.
Walking to the left along the cliffside, we come to an impressive basalt stone arch, standing strong and stoic among the crashing waves. Owen explains how it’s all that remains of what was once a sea cave.
The tall archway is a fair distance out into the sea; in my mind, I can see what a massive cave it must have been, before the brackish water ate away at it and brought its roof crashing down. All that remains is the archway; a reminder or the once-great chamber below a cliffside, echoing underfoot.
We head back to the car across the ghostly landscape, and the cool droplets of moisture in the air prickle my skin.